Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Part XIII: The Way Mike Worked -- On the road to D.C.

My eight-year-old son Kevin and I were on our third day of cross-country travel from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Washington, D.C.

I had promised Kevin three things to coax him into traveling with me in the U-Haul. No. 1, each night on the road we would stay at a motel with a pool. No. 2, we would eat every meal at McDonald's. No. 3, we would take his dog, Precious, with us.

He asked if he could drive but I said no, even though I could have used some relief behind the wheel. But I did stick to the other three promises and on this, the third day, I had a bad case of heartburn to match my driver fatigue.

We were passing through the sliver of West Virginia between Ohio and Pennsylvania when I spied a rest area and stopped. It was Labor Day weekend and one of the service clubs staffed a coffee stop. I hit the restrooms and then the coffee stand staffed by a pair of middle-aged guys. As he poured my coffee, one of the guys asked where I was headed.

"Washington, D.C.," I said. "I start a job there Monday."

He nodded, handed me the Styrofoam cup. The coffee was as hot as the afternoon. "You aren't one of those Clinton fellas, are you?"

"Afraid so." I smiled. They didn't. I heard the Deliverance banjo playing in the background. I thanked them for the coffee and retreated to look for my son. Clinton fella? I guess that I was, although far down on the list, way below the political appointees and the thousands of full-time D.C. bureaucrats and the hangers-on that accompany any new administration.  The National Endowment for the Arts was borrowing me from the State of Wyoming because, as a writer from a flyover state such as West Virginia, my higher-ups thought that I would lend a new perspective to the work of the government arts agency. I had signed up for two years with a possible two-year extension. I was part of a pool of Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) employees that made their way to D.C. every couple years. There was a surge now as V.P. Al Gore was tasked with trimming the federal work force.

Kevin and I spent one more night on the road. We could have made it to Rockville, Md., by nightfall but our new house wasn't available until the next day.  The motel had a nice pool and we could see the golden arches from our room. This Clinton fella was pretty tired and tomorrow was moving-in day. Chris and our infant daughter Annie were flying in from Denver in the afternoon. Soon we would all be together in a new house in a new town. Chris was going to stay home with Annie while Kevin went to the third grade. We would try to survive on one mid-level bureaucrat's salary in one of the most expensive suburbs on the East Coast. North Bethesda -- that's what city leaders wanted to rename our section of Rockville. The new name would probably bring higher rents and higher prices all-around. Bragging rights, too, I guess.

But that was all ahead of us in this new adventure.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Part XII: The Way Mike Worked -- Welcome to Wyoming

INTRO: "The Way We Worked" exhibit wrapped up its stint at the Laramie County Public Library on Nov. 16. This Smithsonian-sponsored traveling exhibit features interactive displays on various aspects of working in the U.S. Technology plays a major role, as you might guess. Assembly lines, automated farm equipment, telephone switchboards, manual typewriters, and the dawn of the computer age. The exhibit has moved on to other libraries. But while it was here, it prompted me to look closely at my own work history. My final batch of posts have to do with my life as an arts administrator. It's a specialty I knew nothing about until I tried out several other career paths. I was clueless when I started in 1991 and, by the time I retired in 2016, I had a few clues. I feel it's my civic responsibility to share them with you, no matter how many words it takes. 

My first year as literature program manager at the Wyoming Arts Council got off to a rocky start.

But it might not have started at all.

I was so tentative with State of Wyoming application that I filled it out by hand instead of typing it. I don't know what I was thinking. Or if I was thinking. I almost had an advanced degree, which I thought would be a plus. But my only experience in arts administration was as a reluctant volunteer in my university's Fine Arts Series. My only grant request thus far, for the Colorado State University English Department's Visiting Writers Series, was turned down by Fort Fund, Fort Collins' local arts agency, despite my eloquent presentation to the grants committee. I was 0-1 in the grants department.

On the plus side, I was a published writer and well acquainted with the literary world after three years in an M.F.A. program. I did some research and discovered that there actually was an arts administration degree track at a number of universities. What did this kind of person do? A lot, as it turns out. Grants, yes, but a list of other things. Outreach to non-profits, budgeting, arts promotion and marketing, diplomacy with hard-headed politicians, schmoozing with rich patrons.

That last one did not figure in my research. But it's a real thing, as I found out over the years. I am a liberal but a pragmatic one. Many rich people are Republicans. That doesn't make them bad, despite the tenor of today's politics. Many of these rich Republicans have an abiding interest in one or more arts forms, usually those that involve large buildings for symphonies, opera, and the visual arts. Most do not fund avant-garde or political arts projects as that can lead to trouble when some rabble-rousing artist makes art that enrages community leaders. The free spirit in me loves the free spirit in others. As a bureaucrat, charged with spending taxpayer money responsibly, well, you can see the conflict. More on this topic later.

My background in the arts was limited. I didn't attend a live symphony performance until well into adulthood. I was in my 40s before I first attended an opera. None of my K-12 schools had arts education beyond basic drawing and making some simple pottery that could be a bowl or an ashtray, the perfect all-around Christmas gift for Marlboro-puffing parents. None of my family members were artists. They tended to be accountants or nurses or insurance sellers. They would have seen an arts career as impractical. "That's nice as a hobby but how are you going to make a living?"

Good question.

I digress. I was applying to be an arts administrator in Wyoming. To my surprise, I landed an in-person interview. I drove up to Cheyenne. The staff interviewed me. They were trying to decide if I was someone they could work with. As I had already discovered in the corporate and academic worlds, it was important to be collegial in a small department where people often worked together.

One WAC staffer asked me what made me want to live in Cheyenne. I answered that I didn't want to live in Cheyenne -- I wanted to work at the Arts Council. It seemed like a perfectly logical answer. I didn't know anything about Cheyenne except that it was the capital city and sponsored a big ten-day rodeo every summer. When we moved to Cheyenne, people seemed dismayed that we had moved from Fort Collins, which was a weekend destination for adults and their teen children. Elders went to shop at Sam's Club and the city's mega-mall, eat dinner at one of the cool restaurants. Young adults went to party. And this was before legal pot!

I got the job. I was hired by director Joy Thompson who, by the end of the year, was on her way elsewhere. My first assignment was to drive to the Sundance Institute in Utah to meet with literary types from the region to plan a collaborative literary initiative. Joy told me they needed someone from Wyoming and I was it. So I teamed up with Robert Sheldon of the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) and we drove across Wyoming to Redford's place. A great intro to my colleagues in other states. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Literature Program Director Joe D. Bellamy was there. I met reps from literary organizations like the Aspen Writers Conference and a sampling of writers, including Terry Tempest Williams and Ron Carlson.

I absorbed it all, spoke little. Hiked the mountain and pondered my future. I entered the cliche of "steep learning curve" but was prepared for the challenge. When I went to the office the next week, I was charged with coordinating the initiative for Wyoming. I also was tasked with researching, writing, and editing the WAC's 25th anniversary annual report. A tall order, because I knew nothing about the arts in Wyoming. As the WAC's first full-time staffer for literature I had much to do. I had to show that the investment was worth it.

That introductory year is now a blur. One thing stands out. When the 1992 legislature convened, I began to discover the precariousness of my position. Republican leadership declared war on Democratic Governor Mike Sullivan when he vetoed their latest redistricting plan because it was a clear-cut example of gerrymandering. They retaliated by zeroing out the budgets of all of Sullivan's favorite projects, including the Arts Council. This was a blow. Just when I was figuring out what was going on. I refreshed my resume and waited for the hammer to fall. I alerted my family. At the WAC, we mobilized the arts community and its members flooded legislators with calls and letters -- not sure if we had e-mail at that point. A few Republicans groused in public about what a nuisance artists and arts educators were. That seemed ominous. But the response was paying off.

I began to realize that the arts community in the state was a tight-knit web. Legislators had artist neighbors. Their kids were involved in the school orchestra or drama club. Relatives ran arts groups that brought artists and performers to their small towns. Cutting the arts budget was personal. And personal relationships are crucial to life in a place challenged by long distances and rough landscapes and weather. An important lesson.

This story has a happy ending. The budget was restored in a roundabout way but restored it was. Legislators learned a lesson, a short-term one at that as budget cuts to the arts and arts education were always a threat. I kept the resume updated. I was adding lots of experience as an arts administrator. Still learning, as it turns out. That never changed.

In 1993, the NEA came calling. And I answered.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Part XI: The Way Mike Worked -- The long road to a career as arts administrator

Arts administrator.

Nice alliterative term. Features the noun arts, which we all know is a right-brain function, with administrator, which is decidedly left brain. I always felt that I had some of the left and some of the right. I wasn't artistic, but I did enjoy the arts, as in the kind of art you see at galleries and museums and that which you see on stage in the form of theatre and music. My music tastes were shaped by the '60s and '70s, preferring rock and roll to the classical, what used to be called "longhair music" before there were actual long-haired hippies rocking out to Led Zep. My father loved classical music and played the loud stuff: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Ravel. 

Dad loved the bagpipes.The only concert he ever took me to was the Black Watch, the military band that used to scare hell out of Native Africans, Afghans, and any other peoples the Brits yearned to subdue. He played bagpipe records too, probably to escape a house filled with squabbling kids and a frazzled wife. I was usually reading. I can still read when it's noisy. All through my childhood, my father played his stereo at night.

While studying creative writing at CSU in the late '80s, I supposed that I would teach if my fiction didn't start bringing in the dough. I was a teaching assistant, teaching freshman comp and eventually, creative writing to the young and restless. Much to my chagrin, I discovered that an M.F.A. in 1990 could land you a teaching job at a community college and maybe as a college adjunct. But I set my aims higher. I applied to colleges and universities all over the U.S. I snagged a couple in-person interviews, too, at the Modern Language Association conference in late December in Chicago. They bore no fruit. Too cold. I didn't stay at the conference hotel right by the waterfront but one that I could afford a few blocks away. 

During the three-day event, I encountered many young people engaged in the job search and, when they had a few minutes, attending some of the pedagogy sessions. I went to a few of those. The one I remember best featured Chicago hard-boiled crime writer Sara Paretsky. I'd read a few of her books and she was fascinating and funny. She talked about the movie being made based on her novels, V.I. Warshawski starring Kathleen Turner. She cracked up the audience when she told how the male director tried to talk Turner into showing a bit more skin as she battled the bad guys. Paretsky wondered then if Hollywood might not be ready for a female private eye. The talk filled me with joy until I again ventured outside into the snow and wind. I'd been living in Colorado for 12 years and knew snow and cold and wind. But there was something evil in the wind that howled off of Lake Michigan. 

In 1991, I was 40 and possibly unemployable. I started thinking that I might have to go back to the corporate world. I was broke and had a family to support. What to do?

That's when I started thinking of life as a working artist. The prospect filled me with dread and by the spring I was up to my cerebral cortex in depression. I'd been depressed before but never like this. I couldn't sleep and couldn't concentrate in class. We took off for a spring break trip to Tucson. I sat in the back seat; Chris and Kevin sat up front.  At one rest stop in New Mexico, I bolted off into the scrub, headed for God-knows-where. Eventually I stopped and returned to the car. Chris and Kevin were concerned. I was just a bundle of angst.

It wasn't much of a spring break. My psyche broke, or was breaking. On our way home, we stopped for the night at a cheap motel in Albuquerque. I was created a few miles away in 1950 after my newlywed parents partied in Old Town and then went back to their cramped apartment and had sex. It was about this time of year, too, mid-March, when the crab apple trees were trying to bloom and snowstorms collided with the Sandias. That was happening right this moment, the mountains squeezing fat snowflakes out of a Pacific Low. In my angst-ridden state, I didn't feel like driving or doing much of anything Elsie but hunkering down to wait out the Apocalypse. We waited through two nights. And on the third day, I arose from my somnambulist state and drove us the 500 miles back to Fort Collins. In this state of anxiety, my heart raced and I imagined scary things that would never come to pass. If one snowflake fell, by God, I was going to park this thing and never get out. But it didn't and I didn't. My wife wondered if I had flipped my lid. My son was confused by Dad"s odd behavior. We got home, eventually.

At this point, my experience with therapy consisted of three talk sessions with a therapist in training at UF Health Services. I was 26 and had just broken up with a long-time girlfriend or she had broken up with me. I was depressed and confused. After walking by the Health Services building a half-dozen times, I went in and asked for an appointment. I met with a guy who may have been younger than me, and we chatted. I quit after three sessions because I started to feel better. Not really -- spring was in full bloom and I found many outdoor things to do including spring break at the beach. Nothing like a little suds and sand and surf to ease a person's psyche or at least preoccupy it.

Back to 1991... A week after the trip to Phoenix, I was in the office of the campus psychiatrist.  A real shrink, not one-in-training. He sized me up pretty quickly and put me on a small dose of Prozac, a mind-altering drug. He warned me that it would take a month or more for me to feel its effects. I asked him about any unwanted side effects. Reduced libido, dry mouth, weight gain. I figured I could live with all of those, for a short time at least.

On a nice spring day, a guy I knew from my Denver church shot down his estranged wife in front of her workplace and then killed himself. The Denver Post article about it said that the killer had been under the care of a psychiatrist and was taking Prozac. Experts quoted in the article debated the pluses and minuses of the drug known generically as Fluoxetine. I read all of it but didn't have to as I knew that Prozac was involved. During our next session, I asked the psychiatrist about dangerous side effects such as murder. He took my question seriously but advised me to be cautious when reading about antidepressants because a lot of misinformation was circulating and the Internet was in its infancy. I stuck with the program and gradually, as spring turned to summer, I began to feel better.

I signed up for the arts education project at the Colorado Council for the Arts (now Colorado Creative Industries). They planned to send me to a small town in eastern Colorado for a semester to teach writing in the mornings and model my writing skills in the afternoon. I'd get paid a stipend and would stay at a teacher's house. I could see my family on weekends.

That summer, I worked on my thesis, taught composition at AIMS Community College in Greeley, and served  as the English Department rep to the CSU Fine Arts Committee.  I learned how to stage events, some of them quite big. I was charged with bringing writers to campus. Over the course of 18 months, I worked with Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, Maya Angelou, Linda Hogan, David Lee, Larry Heinemann, and others. It was a thrill to meet some of the writers I had read. As I shepherded them around campus, I had some one-on-one time with them, asked them about their work, tried to get tips to help my own writing.

I brought Etheridge Knight to the Larimer County Jail where he coaxed a group of inmates to try out their poetic voices. Knight had been a jailbird himself, and a heroin addict after being wounded in the Korean War. He spoke from a deep well of experience. I spoke to Heinemann about the voice he used in Paco's Story, winner of the National Book Award. When I picked the novel off of the library shelves, I was hooked by the voice, a dead grunt who addresses a man named just "James" ("This ain't no war story, James") and narrates Paco's tale in a "sad and bitter voice." I took David Lee on a tour of his old dorm which now served as offices for me and my fellow teaching assistants.  It was a thrill listening to the diminutive Brooks reciting the "We Real Cool" poem that's included in almost every 20th century poetry anthology:

All of this took time away from my writing and classes. But it was this experience that led me to my 25-year career as an arts administrator.

You just never know where life will lead you. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 2018

From Metro News in the U.K.:
As we approach the centenary of the Armistice on November 11, the Imperial War Museum has released a recording of the moment the war ended, patched together using recordings from their collections. The artillery activity it illustrates was recorded on the American front near the River Moselle, one minute before and one minute after the war ended. Read more here
My paternal grandparents, Raymond Shay (Big Danny to his grandkids) and Florence Green (Mudder), were both near the action in the closing days of the war. My grandfather was a cavalry officer with the Iowa National Guard and my grandmother was a nurse serving at Evac Hospital No. 8. Several years ago, I printed Mudder's diary (with commentary) on these pages. Here are her entries from Nov. 9-12:
November 9: The Germans have until Monday 11am, am crazy to know how every thing is going to turn out. Am waiting to go on a candy making party but looks like we won’t go tonight as the officers can’t come, such as life, just full of disappointments.
November 10: Busy as could be today, tomorrow is the day which decides about the war, am so anxious to hear the return.
November 11: Am some happy tonight to think the war is really over. I cannot believe it. Haven’t heard a gun since 11am. Great celebrating everywhere. Can almost hear the city hall in Baltimore ringing, and what a wonderful time for Paris.
November 12: Nothing exciting happened, patients coming in slowly. Took a walk. Our orders came. We go Evac to #15, hope from there to #2.
The U.S.-led Meuse-Argonne offensive was still in process, with nurses at Evac #8 working around the clock. Researcher Dr. Marian Moser Jones of the University of Maryland read Mudder's diary and had this response:
As she notes in her diary, Florence was sent to evacuation Hospital number 8 during the end of the Meuse Argonne Offensive in late October, after stints at Evacuation Hospitals 1 and 4. Evacuation Hospitals were nearer the front than base hospitals. Green served near the front during the final push of the war and was part of a group regularly exposed to large artillery fire and aerial bombardments.
University of Maryland Professor of Surgery Dr. Arthur Shipley served at Evac #8. He wrote about his experiences after the war. Here are some of his observations about evacuation hospitals:
The Evacuation Hospitals were usually up to 10 miles from the front. They were well out of reach of the light artillery but within the range of the "heavies" and, of course, were subject to bombing. The difficult thing was to place them along the lines of communication, and at the same time far enough away from ammunition dumps and rail heads not to invite shelling or bombing. They were plainly marked with big crosses made of different colored stone laid out on clear space, so as to be easily seen from the observation planes and to show up in photographs. If there were buildings in the hospital group, red crosses were often painted on the roofs. This was most important, as wounded men in large numbers could not be moved into dugouts if the hospitals were subjected to much shelling. During the Argonne offensive, we were at the top of our strength. We had about 1000 beds for patients, 410 enlisted personnel, 65 medical officers and 75 nurses.
My grandfather also kept a diary but he wrote only short, officious entries. We do know he was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive but lack any details. I can only guess his feelings on Armistice Day. He told stories about his role in the war but none about the final bloody days when U.S. troopers suffered massive casualties. The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery holds 14,246 headstones for the U.S. casualties of the final 47 days of the war.

I am writing a novel set in post-war Colorado. During my research, I learned a few things. The war set people in motion. An Iowa farm boy and a middle-class Baltimorean ended up in Europe during one of the globe's most savage moments. As the song goes: "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?"

All four of my grandparents moved to Denver in 1919-1920. I always wondered why. That's the theme I explore in my novel. What caused my relatives to slip the bonds of their homes and venture West? The frontier was closed, Frederick Jackson Turner said after the 1890 census revealed that the Wild West was wild no more. Maybe my grandparents didn't see a frontier but they saw something. What was that thing?

The more I read about the war, the better I understand the era and the less I understand humankind. I hope to bring some shape to the shapeless.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Part X: The Way Mike Worked -- The Passing Parade

I can't remember The Retiree's name. He had worked in my division, Information Services, at Denver's Gates Rubber Company, before I arrived on the scene in 1983. He came by occasionally to visit the other old-timers. At 32, I was part of the younger cohort stepping into their shoes as they gradually marched off into the horizon. My parents' generation, the generation that weathered major cataclysms to give birth to many children and kick-start the post-war economy.

Sometimes The Retiree came for lunch at the corporate cafeteria. One afternoon, I came across him in the lobby. He recognized me, invited me to sit in the comfy chair next to him. We watched as the corporate parade passed. The Retiree gestured to a middle-aged guy he used to work with.

"Wanted to buy a sailboat and circumnavigate the globe," The Retiree said.

The guy worked in my department. "Did he do it?"

"What do you think?"

I thought no, he did not.

We chatted some more. He spotted a woman he knew. She walked over to say hi. "Hi," she said.

They exchanged pleasantries. He asked if she was still making fantastic cakes.

"Not as much. Julie moved back home with her two kids. I do a lot of babysitting." She seemed a bit embarrassed. When she went back to work, The Retiree explained.

"She made the cakes for employee birthdays. You had to get there early -- guys stampeded to the break room. Fights broke out to get that last piece of three-layer devil's food cake." He got a faraway look. "I still dream about it."

"That good?"

"Better. Yeah, she was going to open her own bake shop. But she didn't. One thing or another came up." He shrugged.

I sensed a theme developing.

"You know a lot of people," I said. "And their stories."

"People tell their stories all the time. You just have to listen." He paused. "What you pay attention to makes the difference."

Another guy walked by. We called him The Actor. He just played Sweeney Todd for a local theatre and got to murder a bunch of obnoxious people whose meaty parts were made into pies. He was talented and drank a bit.

"I worked with him for a few years," The Retiree said. "He went out to Hollywood for awhile. He probably told you that."

"Not a word."

"He had a few bit parts. Played a dead guy in a soap opera."

"So I work in the graveyard of broken dreams?"

He laughed. "Beware." With that, he took off, probably to take a nap. I went back to work to ponder my future.

The above conversation is fictional. You can probably tell because the exchange rolls so trippingly off the tongue. As if it were a scene from a play or novel. That's something a fiction writer can do when blogging. If I was trying to write, say, a memoir, I would have to let you know that I was reconstructing the dialogue because there was no way I could remember what was said verbatim more than 30 years ago. What I can do is recall the feeling I had when sitting in the lobby with The Retiree. Holy Shit, if I don't watch out, I could end up like this endless retinue of sad sacks going back to work in the rubber mines. On some days, I was already there.

It would be rare to find a kid that says he or she wants to grow up to write paeans to industrial rubber hoses. Yet, there are a surprising number of us who grow up to sing the praises of hoses or cars or computers or paper products. We want to be something else but, as the saying goes, a job, any job, pays the rent. In 1983, I was approaching 33, was married, and tired of living on a prayer. I wanted to land a job that entailed some writing, and that's when I began looking for jobs with big companies. 

At Gates, I did know The Retiree I quote at the beginning of this piece. I knew many of them. I photographed scores of retirement parties, took a lot of employee anniversary shots.  Lots of grip-and-grin shots of a VP  congratulating a union guy who had spent the last 30 years making radiator hoses in the deepest darkest confines of the ancient factory. The cavernous work rooms were loud and covered in carbon black, the ingredient that blackens your hoses and fan belts. It was everywhere -- on the walls and floor and machinery. It was in and on the machines. It was on the employees and their work clothes. When I ate lunch with my female coworkers, they always grabbed extra napkins so they could wipe the carbon black off of the seats less their dresses get streaked black. I followed their example until I noticed that the union guys watched us. We were literally trying to wipe away their presence. I was a writer supposed to know a metaphor when I saw it.

I eventually saw it.

I left the corporate world for academia in 1988. We sold our house that we bought with money from rubber writing. I could walk to work. Now, when I'm in Denver and I drive down South Broadway, I see that corporate HQ now bears a different company logo. Across the street, the massive factory is gone. After Gates abandoned it and it turned into a magnificent ruin, urban explorers made it their playground. Replacing it are rows of modern condo complexes for the new crop of college graduates eager for the Mile High lifestyle. They can catch the light rail at the hub at the corner, where the Gates garage once fixed employee cars at a reduced rate. The company clinic and grocery store are no longer there. "The song "16 Tons" says "I owe my soul to the company store. That wasn't exactly the case, as it was just convenient to shop at the company store. This wasn't Appalachia during the Great Depression. But it was the ending of a certain type of employment. Chris and I paid nothing for an emergency Cesarean and seven days in the hospital for mother and son. All the prenatal and postpartum appointments were free. A billion-dollar privately-owned company in a booming economy could be generous. Every employee's kid got a free gift at the annual Christmas party and rode the Lakeside rides for free at the summer picnic.

It sounds good. But Gates was already building factories in right-to-work states and overseas. The ranks of the URW were beginning to decline. A new health care plan was in the works and a fully-funded retirement plan was being replaced by a 401(K). I know because my department was tasked with explaining the changes to employees who weren't always appreciative when being lied to. The new century approached. Technology would save us all. The international open market would signal a new golden age. Reagan said so.

The first short story I wrote in my CSU M.F.A. writing workshop was called "Who Needs Fedder?" It concerned a young corporate guy who chronicles the travails of his co-worker Fedder when he quits the corporate softball team. He quickly became a non-person, like Doc Daneeka in Catch-22. The story seemed outlandish to my younger classmates. The older ones thought it said a lot about people they had known in the corporate world or in the military. The story was published in 1990 in Bob Greer's High Plains Literary Review in Denver. I never knew what my former Gates colleagues thought about the story as I lost touch over the years. Now they're all retirees like me, reminiscing about those glory days.

You can read "Who Needs Fedder" in my book of stories, The Weight of a Body. It's out of print, but I'll find the file and link it to this post. I will reread it, just to find out what this writer thought of his corporate career.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The library's "The Way We Worked" series features Tuskegee Airman on Nov. 10

The Laramie County Public Library presents another program that's part of "The Way We Worked" exhibit. This family-oriented presentation features one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Africa-American young men whose job entailed escorting U.S. bombers over Europe and shooting Nazi planes out of the sky. They also had to endure the wrath of hateful fellow Americans, both before, during, and after the war that beat the fascists. 

Franklin J. Macon is the author of I want to be a Pilot: The Making of a Tuskegee Airman. He will talk about it and sign copies of book on Saturday, Nov. 10, 1-3 p.m., in the library's Storytime Room. Here's more info on Macon's presentation:
Franklin J. Macon was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen and is now 95 years old. Come hear him speak about his incredible journey from a childhood in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the skies over Tuskegee. His amazing life story speaks of overcoming all odds to reach your dreams by never giving up, living an honorable life and keeping close to family (…and maybe being just a bit mischievous). Inspirational for every member of your family, young and old. Book signing of I Want to Be a Pilot: The Making of a Tuskegee Airman will follow the event. The book is written for upper elementary and junior high school students. 
FMI: 307-634-3561

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Part IX: The Way We Worked: Things To Do In Denver When You're Alive

Where do you look for work when you're new to Denver?

Ski shop? Sure. Colorado was crazy for skiing in 1978 and it was affordable too. Every Friday, Denverites piled into their big American cars and raced up the hill to big American ski areas such Vail and Breckenridge and Aspen. These skiers needed gear and there were plenty of places to get it. People flocked to the Gart Brothers Sportscastle on South Broadway. You could get anything sports-oriented there. Buy a new tennis racket and try it out on the rooftop tennis court. Test drive golf clubs at the driving range or skis on the ski machine. Gart Brothers always was hiring but preferred sales people with a sports background.

So, instead of working at a castle, Chris worked a few blocks down Broadway at a storefront selling ski equipment from a failed business. Neal, one of my father's Regis College buddies, owned the store. He put her to work, even though she had no ski experience, had lived most of her life in semi-tropical army bases in exotic locales such as Atlanta and Ethiopia. Colorado's Rocky Mountains were new territory as was sizing ski boots for bargain hunters with stinky feet. 

Colorado, then as now, was a place where young people came to mingle with other young people in the great outdoors. Denver, especially, was and is a sports town. My cousins were crazy for the Broncos, a formerly hapless NFL team that had played in its first Super Bowl in January '78. When they weren't cycling or kayaking or hiking or jogging or skiing, Denverites watched the Broncos. 

No surprise, then, that Chris and I both found ourselves in the sports biz. I covered high school sports for The Denver Post. I was part of the crew of correspondents that traveled the state, reporting on the exploits of the Brush Beetdiggers, Fort Collins Lambkins, East High Angels, and Monte Vista Demons (Colorado high schools go way beyond "Bulldogs" when it comes to mascots). Our charge was to chronicle each game, get the score right, and spell correctly the names of the standout athletes. This last one was important. Upset parents usually went right to the sports editor with complaints. He didn't like complaints. Check spellings, he'd say. And spare me the deathless prose -- save that for your novel. The joke was the every reporter had a novel a-brewing in his bottom drawer, right next to the pint of rotgut whiskey.

One night at a staff party at the downtown Holiday Inn, Denver Nuggets General Manager Bob King chatted with Chris and found out that she was looking for a new job. The conversation probably went something like this:

Chris: I work at a ski shop. I don't know anything about skiing.
Bob: What do you know about basketball?
Chris: Nothing
Bob: How would you like to work for the Nuggets?
Chris: When do I start?

Chris worked in the Nuggets front office for two years. She had the use of a pair of season tickets. I couldn't make much use of them because I worked most of the nights that the Nuggets played. My cousins were free on weekends so they went to the games while I watched 5-foot-4 girls play roundball in Evergreen and Colorado Springs. I sometimes filed my stories on ancient fax machines. When those didn't work, I called and dictated my stories from remote locations to meet the 11 p.m. deadline. On other nights, I covered hockey or wrestling or anything else that might sell newspaper subscriptions. I covered racketball, tennis, cycling, baseball, and motocross during my three years at the Post.

Meanwhile, Chris assisted the Nuggets through a winning with future Hall-of-Famers Dan Issel, Charlie Scott and David Thompson. It was a pleasure to watch Issel mix it up with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Kareem was the superior athlete. But Issel made up for it in sheer grit. Nobody could fly like "Skywalker" Thompson. In a search for other highs, he almost sabotaged a brilliant career with his yen for cocaine.

In 1981, I landed a job as managing editor of a lifestyle weekly called Up the Creek. Chris grew tired of the sports world and switched to banking. Two of my sisters moved to Denver and worked as nurses. The cold got to them and they returned to Florida. Chris and I both entertained thoughts of moving back to Florida. Friends and family lived so far away. Chris's mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1980 and she made many trips back to Daytona. We were young and didn't mind taking cheap red-eye flights out of Denver's Stapleton for weddings and reunions and eventually funerals.

In retirement, we ask ourselves many questions. Looking back, what would I have done differently? There were scores of alternative lives I could have lived. One of a fiction writer's jobs is writing about alternative worlds, lives different from mine.

I still write fiction. Making stuff up satisfies a need in me. While I worked through various jobs, I kept writing. I have journals going back to 1972. I've published one book of short fiction, published a number of stories and essays in magazines and anthologies. I have posted weekly on my blog since 2005. I have written thousands of words, maybe millions. I am sure that I spent the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers said I needed to be an expert in my field. Expertise did not lead to Stephen King-style publishing success. Still, I write. 

I had a number of jobs in the second half of my working life. Two of them managed to consume 30 years in the blink of an eye. I will write about them in upcoming posts.